One Month on a Bike in The Dominican Republic

The central idea surrounding my bicycle’s purpose was in preparation for this trip. Five friends left to tour the deepest cut of the Dominican countryside for a month.

I’ve found when you return home the gravity of such an experience is more than can immediately be put into words, somehow I felt though that if I didn’t make an attempt the ethos of the trip may become muted. I had a chance to take on a creative writing assignment in attempt to gather those thoughts.

I woke to the morning breeze tugging on my mesh bivy. It was the first night in the past few weeks that I didn’t sleep under a rain fly or some makeshift shelter or a rundown backroom fronting as a low-fare hotel.

I sat up. Just beyond my feet the earth gave way to a steep grade cascading down into a deep cut valley. Short segments from the ribbon of earth that brought us to our perch were visible between the hills. Beyond the valley were mountains; against the mountains were rainclouds, stacking up, one against another. Children the night before told us the clouds would not make it over to our camp. I took them for their word, in part because I was too exhausted to do much more than sleep, and in part because there just wasn’t much to tie shelter off to up there. A few scrubby trees and a bit of barbed wire fence were our only company on the bare ridge.

I got up as the first bit of sunlight breached the distant mountains. The kids were right; on the far hillside I could see a distinct line where the earth starkly changed from green to brown. Over there the rain just stopped. The air was cool–not cold, but I had been riding with a light down jacket packed tightly away for weeks — across plantain fields, up and over mountains and through sweltering jungle, not knowing what temperatures lay ahead at altitude. With only a few items in your possession it seems you sometimes must reach to justify the inclusion of each. That morning, my jacket rationalized its place.

I started bundling up my minimalistic life and took a moment to contemplate the jux between the rugged, panoramic serenity and the ghastly effort thrown down the previous day.

It started about half a year before; a few friends looking for a bike adventure. We wanted topography, affordability and probably most, a head-first trip into the unknown. With just a bit more research than throwing a dart at a map we settled on The Dominican Republic.

Hours into our trip every expectation had already been surpassed, left with a feeling that we were entering an unfamiliar expanse. Our crew was not green by any stretch, but still the first few days in the backcountry came like a tidal wave of experience and acclimation. For the first week, I would lay in bed and contemplate the experiences of the day beginning with the most recent, and making my way back across what we had seen, whom we met, the blaring music and the whole  deluge of sensory until I made my way to the morning. Each morning, feeling as if it had been days or even weeks before at times.

Our journey from the far eastern peninsula to the western plateau was seemingly cast with characters. There was the simple farmer reluctant to take in strangers who quickly became a pillar of hospitality that would epitomize our trip. A Miami ex-pat on a never-ending surf sesh where each pitted wave was another doomed chamber to hide from himself. The memories began to melt into single files, the people and landscape becoming inseparable, each defining the other. Every beat thumping from the nearest colmado became a jingle of tribute to each character’s life.

As we pushed west the climbs became long and sharp. The relentless Caribbean sun scorched our souls. Friendships were tested, some forged in the heat, others tried and perhaps broken. There were times of euphoria and kinship and times I was buried so deep in my own thoughts I became lonely among company.

We made our way through the threshold of each small town marked by plumes of burning waste. The stench a testament to the depravity of infrastructure and education. Each town staffed with it’s own drunken welcome committee. There was often an air of preemptive hostility. It seems the history of our two countries (mostly unknown to us) had not gone unforgotten. It became a bit of a game to break the grimace we were met with. The moment we were able to communicate our travels were unarmed in condescension, stoic faces would melt into the warmest white-toothed smiles I had ever seen. We would pull over into little shops for fifteen minute reprieves from the sun. Greeted in skepticism more often than not our breaks would end in hugs and rum passed our way.

The days went on like this. Each completely unique, each day exactly the same. I became convinced a single rooster had followed us from the beginning. Invisible in the daylight it would wake me at 4 A.M. beckoning an omen not to become too comfortable in my dreams. I was in a foreign land and I needed to remain aware. On we went through valleys and jungles and deserts continually finding family in strangers, becoming strangers in ourselves.

We wound our way into the sky and found our breezy perch on the ridge, and then we were past it. Through a creole pine forest, open drylands, around a giant salt lake along the Haitian border and then there was another ocean. Our time was done. Not surprised, we all found a little more of ourselves and friendships a little richer. The thing we really came to know though, was a beautiful and complex people, cosmically intertwined with a surreal landscape floating through time in the Caribbean.